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Max Nisen

A Hot Cancer-Drug Race Keeps Getting More Crowded

Medicines that turn immune systems against tumors hold promise for patients, risks for investors.

When a new class of drugs can halt metastatic cancers in some patients, gets FDA-approved to treat seven types of cancer in less than three years and racks up more than $6 billion in sales in its first two full years on the market, a little hype is understandable.  

PD-1/L1 inhibitors are so-called immune-oncology (IO) drugs that help unleash the body's immune system on cancers. And now five drugmakers -- Merck & Co. Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Roche Holding AG, AstraZeneca PLC, and Pfizer Inc. -- have one on the market. These companies are running hundreds of clinical trials for new uses and combinations of these medicines, and many of these trial results will be revealed at this weekend's American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago.